When Renan Barao faced Urijah Faber for the interim bantamweight title in UFC 149, the fight was mostly a one-sided domination by the current champion. It appeared the need for a rematch would seem highly unnecessary. However, following an injury to original opponent Dominick Cruz and an impressive four-fight winning streak by Faber since last facing Barao, fans will see whether the "California Kid" has improved his game enough to bring something new to the table in the rematch.
In addition, featherweight champion and one of the sport's best, Jose Aldo, will be taking on surging contender Ricardo Lamas. We'll break down the lines to tell you whether there's any chance we could see a shake-up in title holders, as well as to find value in the other lines at UFC 169.
Renan Barao (minus-280) vs. Urijah Faber (plus-240)
In their first meeting, Faber looked outclassed in every aspect of the fight. But with the opportunity to step in for the injured Cruz, Faber will again get five rounds at the elusive Barao. And with four recent consecutive wins against top opponents, with three ending by submission, Faber arguably has earned this second title shot, despite the fact that he took the fight on short notice. Despite Faber's impressive win streak, the numbers still bear out the fact that the first event was no fluke, and that Barao is simply a much better fighter than Faber.
Not only is Barao a better fighter than Faber, but he is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. Having never lost in his eight fights since joining the WEC and UFC organizations, Barao hasn't shown many weaknesses in his dominant run. Maintaining 3.66 strikes landed per minute (SLPM), Barao is consistently able to outpace opponents and utilize his incredible movement and athleticism to pick them apart striking.
Against Faber, who holds an inferior 2.71 SLPM, Barao should again be able to put on the striking clinic that he demonstrated in the first fight, out-landing Faber 85-60 in significant strikes. On the other hand, Faber hasn't needed to out-strike opponents in his past few fights; he's had huge success in the grappling game, averaging 1.55 takedowns and 1.11 submissions per 15 minutes.
In context of this, the real statistic of the fight is Barao's takedown defense, which is an extremely high 95 percent, and the fact that Faber wasn't able to take down Barao once in six attempts the first time around. With Faber likely unable to get Barao to the ground, he'll again find himself at a disadvantage trading for five rounds. And though Faber has looked as good lately, he will be taking this fight on short notice, having fought just six weeks ago, and is an aging fighter (34). Having to take on the 26-year-old Barao in one's prime let alone at an advanced age (for MMA), the circumstances seem like an extremely tall order for Faber. He didn't show any indication of being able to challenge Barao in the first fight. Thus, with all of these factors in play, consider Barao a terrific bet to duplicate his initial performance against Faber at just minus-280.
Insider value pick: Barao
Jose Aldo (minus-600) vs. Ricardo Lamas (plus-450)
Barao might be considered one of the best fighters in the UFC, and he draws heavy comparisons to Aldo. Boasting an undefeated 13-fight WEC/UFC career record, Aldo has successfully defended his belt seven times. So understandably it is difficult to see how anybody could beat Aldo. But given his somewhat bizarre and subpar victory against his most recent opponent, Chan Sung Jung, which contrasts with the recent impressive performances of contender Ricardo Lamas, Aldo doesn't appear to be quite the favorite he always has been in the past.
While Aldo's 3.29 SLPM is impressive, it needs to be taken into context of his 14 career KO/TKO victories in a weight class where finishes aren't common, to tell the full story. Aldo does possess legitimate knockout ability, so Lamas would seem to be at a considerable disadvantage, as he holds a subpar 2.44 SLPM and has been finished by KO/TKO twice in his career. Yet Lamas possesses a dangerous offensive game himself. More than half of his career victories have come by either KO/TKO or submission.
Most notable is Lamas' grappling game, in which he has averaged 2.03 takedowns and 1.56 submissions per 15 minutes. Yet, as with the Barao versus Faber fight, Lamas' similar grappling strength will be almost entirely negated by Aldo's stellar 92 percent takedown defense, leaving Lamas vulnerable to Aldo's world-class striking ability. Thus, with such a disadvantage, why isn't Aldo a clear value here?
The answer is, in part, due to two things: One, the very high minus-600 line that is in his favor makes it difficult to find value. Two, the suspect performance that he had against previous opponent Sung Jung, against whom Aldo averaged an uncharacteristic 1.88 SLPM. And with Aldo only attaining the victory in the end due to a shoulder injury suffered by the "Korean Zombie," and a tendency to gas out in the later rounds of fights, Aldo might have his key weaknesses potentially exposed. With many questions raised by that performance, such a gigantic line in favor of Aldo might be a little hard to swallow against a dangerous opponent such as Lamas. Thus, with a clear advantage for Aldo, yet not enough value in his favor at that steep price, consider this one a stay away.
Insider value pick: stay away
Jamie Varner (minus-150) vs. Abel Trujillo (plus-130)
If you're looking for value in an MMA fight, it doesn't get much better than Varner. Possessing the perfect skill set to upset opponents who tend to look good on paper, Varner always seems to make otherwise great strikers look bad. As an example, consider his first-round KO/TKO victory over Edson Barboza, who at the time, was undefeated and a minus-500 favorite. Against Trujillo, he'll be facing another dangerous striker, but one who poses much less of a challenge than Varner has faced in the past.
The statistic that gives Varner the most value against any opponent is the fact that he has never lost a fight by KO/TKO in his 32-fight career, which is an incredible accomplishment. Given that both of Trujillo's UFC wins have come by KO/TKO and that he possesses a very dangerous 3.98 SLPM, Varner possesses the perfect track record to neutralize Trujillo's greatest strength: his ability to close out fights with strikes. And while Varner does possess solid offense himself, with nine career KO/TKO victories and a respectable 2.89 SLPM, he's found the greatest success in his wrestling ability, which he has continuously used to give more striking-centered opponents problems.
With a considerable rate of 3.73 takedowns per 15 minutes, Varner possesses the ability to make knockout artists think twice before committing, and should score points that will weigh heavily in a decision. Against Trujillo, Varner might actually have his easiest path to victory yet, if Trujillo's fight against fellow takedown artist Khabib Nurmagomedov is any indication. He was taken down an incredible 21 times by Nurmagomedov. Varner's ability isn't necessarily the same as Nurmagomedov's, but it isn't far behind and should be just as problematic for Trujillo. This will neutralize both Trujillo's power and striking advantages. Thus, as just a minus-150 favorite, with a nearly unstoppable ability to score points and control the fight, consider Varner a fantastic bet.
Insider value pick: Varner
Tom Watson (minus-210) vs. Nick Catone (plus-160)
Catone is reeling from two consecutive stoppage losses. Against Watson, Catone will be tested, but he has had past success when he can take a fight to the distance. There are a few good explanations for Catone's recent troubles that won't be a factor in this one.
For one, Catone received his first career submission loss against T.J. Waldburger, one of the most prolific submission artists in the UFC. With Catone possessing a very good wrestling prowess, 3.47 takedowns per 15 minutes and with Watson defending just 44 percent of his takedowns, Catone will likely attempt to employ his takedown strategy again. Against Waldburger, that had little success. Against Watson, however, Catone should be able to implement his game plan without concern, as Watson averages zero submissions per 15 minutes and has won only one fight in this manner during his career.
Watson's main advantage will be striking, as he has achieved half of his victories by KO/TKO and possesses a very large 3.88 SLPM. But with Catone constantly threatening the takedown, and a respectable 2.13 SAPM striking defense to protect himself while setting up the takedown, Catone should be able to fend off Watson's usually dominant striking game.
Also, consider that Catone possesses an 83 percent takedown defense himself, and it's obvious that this fight can go a few different directions. While it's possible that Watson can reproduce the success fellow dangerous striker Chris Camozzi had against Catone, consider that Camozzi had a distinct height advantage at 6-foot-3 and a better takedown defense of 59 percent. Catone definitely has the tools to win this fight, and with Watson having a few options at his disposal, consider the plus-160 underdog line for Catone a good value.
Insider value pick: Catone